Jacques Rivette's CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING is a witty salute to theater, female bonding, hallucinogenic candy, and those old standbys, fantasy and reality. Despite its three-hour-plus length and multi-layered narrative, the film has a devoted cult following, in part because of the
surreal humor and delightful lead performances by Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier.
Celine (Berto), a nightclub magician and fanciful storyteller, meets Julie (Labourier), a shy librarian, somewhere in a Parisian park. After a long game of cat and mouse that takes them through the city streets, Celine and Julie form a fast friendship and move into Julie's apartment, where the the
women take turns swapping each other's identities and exchanging tall tales. Celine tries to impress Julie with a strange story about a continuous drama taking place in an old, possibly abandoned mansion. Celine not only claims it's true, but that she is also a participant. In the story, two
women, Sophie and Camille (Marie-France Pisier, Bulle Ogier), are desperately in love with a widower named Olivier (Barbet Schroeder), who promised his late wife that he would not remarry as long as his ailing young daughter, Madlyn (Nathalie Asnar), was alive. Celine is supposedly the child's
nanny who tries to shield the girl from the tension in the house--and possibly murder.
Enigmatic, funny, and engrossing all at once, CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING is one of Rivette's most playful films. His earlier films were often self-referential, pretentious messes that ran ridiculously long (OUT ONE/SPECTRE is 12 hours). But, in CELINE AND JULIE, he found a way to temper his
excesses, tweak viewer expectation, and toy with the theatrical fourth wall, all in one entertaining movie. It's certainly not always easy to sit through; Rivette's penchant for quirkiness wears thin, and he throws in nonsensical bits that seem geared to his own amusement. Many scenes go on way
too long without any payoff, and the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.
Still, CELINE AND JULIE succeeds at being both entertaining and unconventionally cerebral. Labourier and Berto have a great time playing giddy explorers who take off on a wild spree in the house of fiction, while Schroeder, Pisier, and Ogier hilariously parody dull melodrama with the straightest
faces imaginable. Rivette encouraged improvisation and worked with the actors to create their own dialogue, resulting in some truly off-the-wall moments of slapstick humor. leave a comment --Donica O'Bradovich